I was recently asked what I believe makes an individual a leader. At first I didn’t know how to respond because it caught me off guard. I then asked if I could think about it just for few moments because I knew it was going to be a multifaceted answer.
I was taught there are three types of supervisors: Leaders, managers and bosses.
Leaders always lead by inspiring, teaching and listening to their people. Managers work over their people’s shoulders and micromanage all aspects of their work. Bosses bark out orders, do not assist in work, and say things like, “Do what I say, not what I do.”
When I was in the U.S. Army as a young Corporal, I witnessed all three of these types. I was lucky enough to be mentored by several great leaders who taught me that leaders lead from the front; they always lead by example and they never ask others to do something that they are not willing to do themselves.
Then I thought about the few great leaders that I have had the privilege to work for over the years and others that I have witnessed to be a leader for a brief moment. Some of these leaders still inspire me today.
I then responded by saying that I believe that all leaders have certain character traits. Some of these traits are combined and some stand alone.
One of these character traits I believe a leader must have is integrity. Integrity is sometimes defined as doing the right thing even when no one else is around or choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain. I believe that a leader must continue to show this trait if he/she wants others to follow them.
If a group of individuals believes that their leader is cutting corners because it is easier to get the job done, but it isn’t the correct way, then soon that group will lose faith in their leadership. Individuals must believe that their leader is doing everything in an ethical and right way.
I also believe that a leader must have some courage. This can even be in a one-time event.
I have been in the criminal justice system for 20-plus years. I have witnessed these one-time events many times, especially when victims of a crime face their offenders. I have also witnessed this by individuals standing alone and speaking their minds against an overwhelming side that believes otherwise.
Sometimes the greatest leaders show their courage by standing up and admitting they have made the wrong decision.
I also believe a leader must have some confidence. A leader must be able to do anything at anytime even if he or she might get it wrong.
I am not saying that these individual do not have fear. They might, but they also have the confidence that allows them to overcome that fear. I believe that confidence is one of these character traits that must be tempered with humility.
Sometimes a leader is a person that steps up when they are needed and knows when to relinquish that position. This is one of the reasons we admired President George Washington as a leader so much in this nation.
President Washington embodied the ideas of an individual named Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus — a Roman who was a farmer one day and when his country was in crisis he stepped up to lead. He later gave up his reign once the crisis was over and went back to his farm. And yes, Cincinnati, Ohio was also named after him.
I wish I could say wisdom is a trait that makes an individual a leader but I have witnessed this not to be true. Wisdom is sometimes only gained from experience, and if you are young you might not have had any opportunities to gain experience. I have witnessed young individuals being leaders. I have witnessed them inspire their peers and others and also stand up to make their community a better place to live.
So, what makes a leader? I believe a leader is an individual who has many of these traits and other characteristics. These individuals have integrity, courage, and confidence. They also have the abilities to listen, to inspire, to teach.
We are lucky in this community to have so many people with these traits.
When I look around every day in our community, I see leaders.
Kelly Hopkins is the Past All-State Post Commander for the VFW Post 6710, President of the Clinton County Leadership Institute and Chief Bailiff of the Clinton County Common Pleas Court.